My Article Re-Blogged from Rare Republic
Ontario’s newest brewery is coming to Elora.That’s right. The town famous for its gorge, artists and limestone buildings is adding craft beer to its line-ups of delights and attractions. I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview tour.
It is in one of the beautiful limestone buildings you’ll find the soon-to-be Elora Brewing Company (EBC). Located at 107 Geddes Street next to Box Social café and restaurant, the venue was formerly a hardware store and before that a pharmacy. The venerable structure is currently undergoing extensive interior renovations to make the space usable as a brewery.
So far, the deconstruction has turned up a few surprises, including old prescriptions for cocaine and a boxful of nudist and nature magazines from the 1920s. It should come as no surprise that the building is tossing out these treasures as it sits at over 140 years old and even survived a fire in the 1880s. Some of the damage is visible on the second floor. It will be a brewery wrapped in history – and that is what the EBC folks wish to preserve.
Jonathan Laurencic and Matthew Lawson, two of the founders of EBC, filled me in on the long history of the building and the brewery’s story-in-the-making. As with so many of these young brewing start-ups, that new history is a rich one.
It turns out there is touch of serendipity to it, as well. The five founders of EBC are, in no particular order, Laurencic, Lawson, Don Smith, Jim Murphy and Alex Nicholas. The latter will also be the head of brewing.
The story goes that Laurencic and Smith were (and still are) work colleagues who had a dream to open a brewery in Elora. At the same time, and unbeknownst to that pair, Murphy and Lawson also shared the same passion as neighbours home-brewing in Elora. Laurencic decided to seek advice and mentorship on starting a brewery from his friend Phil Hipkiss of Block Three Brewing in St. Jacobs. And as it also happened, Murphy and Lawson also decided to get advice from Block Three.
Hipkiss, for his part, put the parties together and serendipitously enough everybody got on like a house (or brewery) on fire. The group decided to move forward together, but there was one problem: no one had any brewing experience aside from home-brewing.
Enter Alex Nichols.
Laurenic took out an online ad looking for a Head Brewer. He got Nichols’ resume, which had just been updated for the first time in ten years. Currently working at Barley Days in Prince Edward County, Nichols is a Scottish-trained brewer with over a decade’s worth of experience. After some introductory conversations, Nichols decided to take on the Elora challenge.
So what does the future have in store for EBC – and what do they have in store for craft-beer aficionados? Well, the brewery itself is to be located at the rear of the building with a partially gravity-fed brew system feeding 4 x 40 hectolitre fermenters. EBC hopes to add four more in the near future.
Just as exciting, there will be retail counter and bar area at the front of the building separated by the existing and ancient limestone wall. Some of the second floor will be removed to allow for an open mezzanine area that will have a front view to downtown Elora and a back view down into the brewery operations to make it feel like a connected space. The high ceilings should create an open ambience which will be ideal for the musicians that EBC intends to invite in to play.
As for the beer, the renovations are the focus right now, and – sadly – there are no beers to sample. What EBC has in their sights, however, are beers such as a session IPA, as that style is on the rise. As well, Nichols is a big fan of German beers, so I’m hoping there will be a decent pilsner on opening.
There may even be a few surprising brews in store, too: Nichols has a history of coming up with unique recipes, like the brew he formulated for Caplansky’s in Toronto. The beer featured the spices used in the deli giving it a unique flavour and one, I’m told, that paired well with Caplansky’s specialty deli meats.
Education is going to be a big part of the EBC philosophy. Lawson tells me they intend to have chefs visit the brewery to prepare a dish that can be paired with a seasonal beer, explaining what to look for in the matching and enjoyment of specific beers and foods.
With the town of Elora being new to craft beer, this is a key strategy that will help engage the local population in discussion and to embrace the brewery as part of the town. That said, word-of-mouth will be critical to EBC’s success. According to the partners, very little beer is going to be distributed to pubs and bars with the main business coming from foot traffic in Elora.
With a scheduled spring opening, this should give them enough time to get the word out during the busy season enough so that it tides them over in the generally quieter winter months. However, with the rise in the popularity of craft beer of late, this should be of little concern as other breweries and venues have shown that if the beer is good then people are willing to travel for it.
It seems to me that the Elora Brewing Company building is going to be more than just a brewery. It looks to be heading to be the heart of a community and a place where the whole town can come together to sit down and enjoy good food and great beer. It will be a new venue to showcase music and local artists and where a bit of the town’s historic commercial past is refurbished at the same time it joins current modern trends that embrace today’s craftsmanship and small-batch care and attention to detail.
I hope I will be lucky enough to be asked back after the renovation is complete to see the metamorphosis of the building and see if there is any brand new craft beers for my palate to contemplate. Spring 2015 can’t come soon enough.